30 May The Quaker
Why does it feel I’ve lived this night before? Mike thought as he guided the bus down the road.
Sometimes it feels that a night can go on forever. Even as the new day dawns, you find your mind slip back into the twilight, who’s to say we all don’t exist in an eternal loop? Some soul hanging a carrot and stick over your shoulder, leading you in circles as they leach the energy from your soul.
Twisted minds prefer to dwell in the unlit corners of the spiritual plane, those sinister spirits that prey on the unwary. This story, dear reader, is a story about one of those spirits. So wherever you are, shut the blinds, lock the door, and check under your bed, for The Quaker might be watching…
A multitude of dark towers rose above the horizon, the bus driver’s tired eyes gazed out of the foggy windows at a sky with no moon. Thick clouds swirled and formed above. The yellow-tinged rain splattered the bus’s windows, discolored from the cheap lighting of the streetlamps that passed by the bus, turning everything into a wayward Van Gogh.
A name tag reflected passing headlights: ‘NYC Transport: Mike Flannigan’, appearing and disappearing as quickly as a rabbit in a hat. The bus engine hummed, struggling through another large body of water, its wipers beating together in a rhythm more familiar to the driver than his own heartbeat.
The clock on the dash showed 11:34p.m. Flannigan’s bloodshot eyes stared at him through the rear-view mirror, surrounded by dark sockets and pale skin.
I look like a fucking zombie.
Looking past his haggard face, Flannigan saw that the three passengers hadn’t moved. The bus drove down the street towards the empty bus stop. Pulling in, he waited.
Only a few more stops until he’d be heading home to see Jane, an extended leave to attempt another patch-up on his already sinking marriage. The overtime and night shifts had killed all affection from their love life, all that held them together now was the little bump beginning to show on her stomach.
Checking around once more, he didn’t see anyone so he pulled off. At the end of the street he turned right. An empty train passed by overhead, the rumbling tracks barely audible under the thundering rainfall. The Weather Channel said the storm was going to be here for another day.
“Damn storms,” he mumbled to himself, “always getting in the way of everything, just one more night Jane, please.”
“Hullo?” the young man at the back of the bus answered loudly, “I can’t, I can’t hear you, mom, what? Mom, why are you crying? Stop crying, please…” He went silent, and then hung up the flip phone and stuck it in his pocket. The color had drained from his face. The young man stared out the window, looking up at the lightning spiking through the gloomy atmosphere.
Flannigan eyed him for another minute through the mirror, at the others who were all docile and gazing at nothing, the old woman on the left hadn’t spoken since getting on, and the little girl was still blowing bubbles with her chewing gum.
It was funny now that he thought about it, because he couldn’t remember where any of them had gotten on.
Pulling into a bus stop, he waited and was about to pull back off when a heavy thumping sounded on the bus’s door. He put the bus back into neutral and opened the door. A black figure was silhouetted from the headlamps. His face was barely discernible under the large brimmed hat he wore.
“What are you waitin’ for, an invitation?” said Flannigan.
The figure remained motionless. Flannigan leaned over and pulled out the torch he kept under the dash for emergencies. He switched it on and pointed it down towards the door.
The man was dressed in all black clothing. Flannigan thought he looked a bit like one of those religious farmers. Quakers, he thought they were called.
“Are you getting on or what? I haven’t got all night,” said Flannigan.
“Do you believe in destiny, Michael?” the Quaker spoke softly. It should have been washed out under the storm, deafened by the thunder, but every word was crisp and cold as ice.
“What’d you say?” Flannigan called back. He stared at the man, noticing that his hat and coat were dry. Not a speck of rain showing on the fabric.
“Our kind has to stick together, Micheal. You just watch that tunnel now. A man can get trapped in there.” The man’s head turned a fraction, too fast, like some glitch.
“Who are you talking to?” a quiet voice asked from behind him.
“Jesus Christ!” Flannigan said, jumping up from his seat to see the little girl standing behind him. There was an odd expression on her face.
“Who do you think I’m talking to? Him!” he pointed the torch back down to the doorway.
Rain fell in through the open door; the floor was covered with water. The man was gone. Flannigan jumped down the steps and pointed the torch around outside, looking for any sign of the strange man.
“There was nobody there,” the little girl looked down at his name tag, “Mike. I looked up as soon as you started talking—the doorway was empty.”
Flannigan scoffed at her. “He was dressed in black, you just couldn’t see him.”
“I could see the bus stop. Unless he was transparent, I don’t think so.”
The girl gave him a look like she was talking to some nut on the street.
Flannigan rubbed his forehead as he sat back down and shut the doors. “Alright, alright, don’t mind me little miss, I’ve not got much sleep the last while is all.”
“Well, should you be driving then, Mike? A man can hurt himself driving tired. My uncle Dave was cut in half by a dozing truck driver.”
Flannigan looked at the girl in the rear-view mirror and was filled with horror as he stared into the darkened face of The Quaker.
“It’s you!” Flannigan jumped up and looked where he’d been.
The little girl stood there shaking her head, “I think I’m going to get off here, Mike. This is my stop, I don’t want to go any further…”
“No, no, don’t be silly! Look, if you say nothing about this, the fare’s on me, huh? What kind of transporter would I be if I let you off in this storm?”
Good Michael, very good… a voice whispered.
The girl nodded after a moment and walked back to her seat, watching him. She put a schoolbag on her lap and reached inside.
She’s probably got pepper spray in there, great, thought Mike.
He put the bus in gear and pulled off. At the end of the street he turned left, heading towards the Madison Tunnel.
And then Flannigan reprimanded himself, he felt like laughing, he’d never had a good imagination—his wife could attest to that—so to think he could’ve imagined someone?
When the bus was halfway up the street, the streetlamps flickered.
On, off, on, off. Yellow… dark… yellow… dark. Then they stayed dark.
A man could get trapped in there…
He could see The Quaker’s face in the window’s reflection, crouching down and whispering into his ear.
Our kind has to stick together, Michael. Be smart now, come on, isn’t it about time you listened to me?
You’re not real, leave me alone, I just want to go home and see my wife!
Flannigan tried to swat him off, he was light headed, and that was it, over-tired.
But you know that’s not true Michael, we must realize the truth in order to change. You must listen to me! You must find peace, sweet Michael…
The man’s eyes had begun to faintly glow as he talked, two tiny red orbs hovering where his eyes should be, the rest of his face still held in shadow beneath the brim.
Flannigan’s knuckles were white gripping the steering wheel. Taking his right hand off the wheel he flexed it, inhaling deeply.
I’m not seeing you, I’m not seeing you, I’m not seeing you… Mike repeated to himself.
Denial does make it truth, you deny me now thrice Judas. Look into my eyes and I shall show you truth, sweet Michael.
Flannigan turned around and faced the man, the bus rattled and shook as it travelled over bumps and puddles, but the man remained erect, seeming to hover in place. He looked into those red glowing embers, and saw…
It was an eternal storm hanging over a city of souls. The people were sat by windows or in chairs, staring at nothing. The Quaker was with them, a balance between light and dark hanging on a precipice as thin as a razor.
Such is the battle that rages behind curtains and within shadow, sweet Michael.
Flannigan saw his bus from the outside, sweeping past. He saw the wind beating at the high towers, the orange moon hidden behind those yellow-grey clouds, the hopeless eyes gazing up at it. Then he saw a shape in the sky, something was familiar about it, something familiar about the way it floated through the sky…
Yes sweet Michael, see! Before your time is up, you must see…
But the clouds swirled in the wind, the tempest blew and clawed at the shape until it twisted and shattered and was blown into a million pieces, it was gone in the wind…
Flannigan was sat back in the driver seat, the passengers hadn’t moved. He rested his hand on his lap, it was shaking.
Looking back at the road, he could make out the lights of the tunnel. As the bus got closer, there seemed to be something in front of it. The bus sped on, the wipers screeched. The roof sounded as if it would cave in from the pressure of the rain at any moment. They hit a puddle, jerking the bus. Flannigan wiped his forehead, his hand returned covered with sweat.
The dark object was getting closer.
Is it a car, broken down? No, there’s no hazard light flashing.
Flannigan glanced into the rear-view, then back onto the road. The lights outside flickered back on as the object disappeared. He took his foot off the gas, hovered over the brake. The lights flickered off. The dark object reappeared, three or four car lengths away.
It swerved onto his side of the road, he hit the brakes and the bus skidded, kicking out as it went.
“Hold on!” said Mike.
He could make out two horses now, galloping through the rain. They wore harnesses, black plumes of feathers on their heads that blew against the wind. They were pulling a dark carriage, a figure whipping at them from atop it. They galloped straight towards the bus. Flannigan could see the muscles flexing on the horse’s bodies, sinews tensing beneath hair. The whites of their eyes glowed. Sparks shot out as their metal shoes collided with the road. He jumped back against his seat, bracing for impact, waiting for the violent clash, screaming.
As the horses came into contact, they passed through the glass. The driver of the carriage came closer, the red embers now having cooled and hardened to two lumps of onyx that coldly watched him.
Time slowed. The Quaker passed within touching distance. His blank, coal-hued eyes seemed to look right into Flannigan’s soul.
The tunnel, Michael, the tunnel! Quick, get out, get out!
It drilled into his mind, echoed, distorted. He shut his eyes wishing for it to end. The bus slowed, coming to a stop as it hit the curb. Flannigan took a deep breath.
Opening one eye, peering around, he saw that the road was clear. The streetlamps were back on. Sweat trickled down his forehead into his eye. He wiped it away with his trembling hands.
What the hell is going on!
Looking down the road, the tunnel stood only a hundred yards away.
“What are you doing, sweet Michael?” a voice droned behind him.
Mike turned, expecting an altogether source of the voice, but finding the three passengers all standing parallel to each other. They watched him with blank eyes, pale faces.
“We must go through the tunnel,” the girl said, “That’s where my family is and I have to get back to them.”
The man nodded, “My mother’s ill, she’s worried sick, listen!”
The man brandished the phone to Flannigan, there was a woman stood beside a grave holding a picture of the man, crying. He saw a figure stood behind her, a dark figure dressed all in black who looked up at him.
“See?” said the man, “You must get me home!”
Mike shook his head, “I don’t want to go through the tunnel, not yet, not ever!”
The old woman took a step forward and her face filled with compassion.
“I know what I am, I will go through the tunnel, don’t be afraid dear.”
Mike opened the door and she stepped out into the storm, she turned and offered a hand to them. The little girl skipped past him and down the steps after the old woman. Mike looked over at the young man, who was still holding out the phone, the scene had changed, the grass was now long, the headstone old and faded.
“You sure you’re not going through, I’d much rather be on the bus?” the young man had fear in his eyes.
“I can’t, my wife, we’re having a baby…it’s going to work, I know it is…” Mike saw the young man nod, then fold his phone and slip it into his pocket.
“Well then, thanks for bringing me this far, I guess.” He walked past Mike and got off the bus, running across the intersection after the old woman and the little girl. The rain had eased off and a thick curtain of fog rolled across the ground, swirling after them in their wake. Mike sat down and shut the door, and watched them all disappear into the tunnel.
Walking down the plane aisle, Flannigan found seat B13 and put his backpack into the overhead compartment, then took his seat.
Last night felt like a dream. He put it down to fatigue and that was all. There were no phantoms in the taxi to the airport. No near collisions with oncoming carriages, either.
A woman put a bag into the overhead compartment and sat down in the seat next to him. They smiled at each other as she buckled her belt. She reached into her bag and pulled out a magazine and began flicking through it.
He turned to the window and thought about last night.
Maybe it was time he moved out of the city? It seemed like it was getting to him, the night shifts and the lack of sleep. It was too much.
The flight attendants were showing the exits now. The plane’s engines began to pick up as they started rolling.
He’d tell his wife that he was thinking about moving back for good and begin looking for jobs. It would all work out, it would—
“Terrible accident last night, wasn’t it?” the woman next to him said.
“The tunnel…collapsing, you didn’t hear?” She looked at him now, eyebrows furrowed.
He felt his pulse peak.
“W—Where was that?” he swallowed.
“Madison Tunnel. A few vehicles were passing through it when it happened. It was a terrible accident, but if it had been during the day…” she shook her head. He nodded and she went back to her magazine.
Taking his phone out from his pocket, he typed Madison Tunnel into Google to see for himself.
Was the man his guardian angel, perhaps? His wife had always told him there were such things, but he’d never believed her.
The ground rolled by outside of the window.
It was a sign, a sign to get out of New York and back home.
A figure walked past in the window’s reflection, he caught a glimpse of it. His stomach lurched. He sprang around, sitting up as much as the belt would give.
The man stood facing him in the aisle. He could only make out the slight smirk beneath the rim. The Quaker tilted his head back. Those coal-hued eyes pierced into Flannigan’s soul, lips breaking into a smile, revealing crooked, sharp teeth.
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
The woman beside him turned to the aisle to see what he was looking at. “Who are you talking to?” She looked back at him.
“You can’t see him?” he asked, looking at her. Then, looking back at the aisle, it stood empty.
“No, this can’t be happening!”
“Sorry, but you’re kind of freaking me out. Can you please stop talking?” She looked startled.
Don’t get on this plane, sweet Michael…
He unbuckled his belt. The plane began climbing away from the ground, making him wobble as he stumbled past her into the aisle.
“No, stop, turn around!” he screamed, running down the aisle towards the cockpit.
The flight attendant tried to grab him. He pushed her off and kept running. A large man in front of him stood up. Hands grabbed him from behind. He felt a pressure in his head as someone held him in a choke hold. His vision began to swim, Flannigan could barely make out the black shape further back down the plane.
Flannigan could only faintly hear the joyless laughter as he slipped into unconsciousness.
His last thoughts were of that laugh, how it seemed to tease him. How it seemed to float from somewhere, somewhere a million miles away…
Jane Flannigan had just gotten out of the shower. She walked into the kitchen with a towel wrapped around her. Walking over to the kitchen sink, she poured herself a glass of water and switched on the TV, taking a sip of the cool water. She flicked through the channels, and then put it back onto the news.
“We’ve just received some breaking news. Flight 32A4 crashed after take-off,” the reporter on the screen stated.
“Michael…” Jane whispered as the glass slipped from her grip and it hit the floor, smashing.
Why does it feel I’ve lived this night before? Mike thought, as he guided the bus down through the darkened street. He looked back in the rear-view mirror at the three quiet passengers on the bus.
The bus traveled down street and into the dark surroundings, disappearing into the mist.
Sometimes it seems that a night can go on forever. Even as the new day dawns, you find your mind slip back into the twilight, who’s to say we all don’t exist in an eternal loop? Some soul hanging a carrot and stick over your shoulder, leading you in circle’s as they leach the energy from your soul.
Twisted minds prefer to dwell in the unlit corners of the spiritual plane. Sinister spirits prey on the unwary, and this story dear reader, is a story about one of those spirits. So wherever you are, close the blinds, lock the door, and check under your bed, for The Quaker might be watching…